How The Hospitality Industry Comes Together In A Crisis

Of all the industries hit by the coronavirus this month, none has been hit harder than the hospitality business and few restaurateurs—not even the most successful—have been immune.

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data, nearly 2,635,000 people worked in the U.S. as servers. About 139,000 worked as chefs and head cooks, nearly 2.5 million as cooks (other levels), and 842,100 as food prep workers. Another 5.4 million (+6,600 because how can we round up or out those 6,600 lives) are in a general category of related food and beverage serving workers.

The BLS 10-year outlook from 2018 to 2028 for all these jobs projected growth ranging from 6 to 14%.

Not anymore. To recover, a recent column in The Atlantic recently noted that America’s restaurants “will need a miracle.” Last week, six notable New York City restaurateurs (who between them laid off 4,300 employees) co-authored an Op-Ed in the New York Times about the plight of the industry. They acknowledged, in industry argot, that “America is in the weeds right now.” But they were really talking about themselves and the millions of other hospitality workers who crashed the Department of Labor unemployment sites last month.

Almost as fast as a top chef can dice an onion, a line cook shake a sauté pan or a server hustle a tray to a crowded station, the industry responded with resources, relief and resolve to help its own. Here are just a few of the efforts from grassroots to large scale, immediate to the long haul ahead.

Local heroes

Big Table is a resource serving the Seattle/Spokane area and also San Diego with assistance for restaurant and hospitality industry struggling with a variety of issues including poverty, substance abuse and now the COVID-19 crisis.

Bindi, a provider of desserts to the food service industry, will begin home delivery in the New York/New Jersey metro area and Los Angeles/Orange counties, and donate 10% of those revenues to the James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Relief Fund. 

Dixie Southern Vodka has donated 10% of all online sales to USBG’s emergency assistance program and will continue to do so until the crisis passes. The brand hosted a virtual “eNASCAR” race fundraiser with a $10,000 donation and call for matching grants, raising $40,000 for Feed the Children South Florida, which provided direct assistance to families affected by the pandemic.

In Winston-Salem, N.C., Heard Collaborative Café, a partnership with Providence Kitchen BB&T and Second Harvest Food Bank is providing meals to displaced service-industry workers and plans to add services to help coordinate applications for unemployment benefits and food programs.

Austin-based GelPro, makers of anti-fatigue comfort mats for the culinary (and other) industry, is converting a large part of its Waco production facility to manufacture medical face shields to healthcare workers and first responders working at the front lines of the pandemic. The company will also donate $100,000 worth of mats to mobile testing sites and first responders.

In Atlanta, The Giving Kitchen is accepting applications for financial assistance and lending other support (referrals to social service programs) to food service workers.

Boston’s Greg Hill Foundation teamed up with Samuel Adams to provide $1,000 grants to qualifying applicants from the Massachusetts restaurant industry who have been impacted by the Covid-19 closures. To date, $471, 172 has been raised.

In Washington, D.C., Hook Hall is distributing care kits and family meals daily from 6-9PM for industry workers.

Katz’s Deli, a longtime mainstay on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is working with the Henry and Grand street settlements on food donations to feed a different senior-citizen building in the neighborhood each day.

In Chicago, CH Distillery, maker of Jeppson’s Malört, is among the distillers making hand sanitizer. Known for its bitter taste (evoking an expression called the “Malort face” when swallowed), the spirit will make one-liter bottles of sanitizer for distribution to Chicagoland hospitals.

A petition hosted by Seattle Restaurants United, a coalition of local restaurants and bars, urges city, state, and federal legislators to protect independent businesses and their employees.

Sauce Restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side has donated more than 2,000 pizzas to the city’s hospitals so far. Wheated Pizza in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn is selling off its whiskey collection, including private bottles for the restaurant, via a GoFundMe campaign to benefit its furloughed employees.

Launched in 2015, Southern Smoke is a Houston-based 501 (c)(3) organization created to help hospitality workers and since 2017 its emergency relief fund has distributed more than $1million to F+B industry workers in crisis. Its COVID-19 portal lists local resources for food assistance and navigating unemployment, business/finance questions, mental health and home concerns such as rent, utilities.

TakeoutCovid/Cellars.nyc is an online app with interactive maps that lists restaurants in eight (and counting) cities that are open for food and beverage delivery and takeout. Businesses can email takeoutcovid@coastapp.com to be added.

Numerous restaurants—too many to recount—have created GoFundMe pages to solicit donations to help pay the staffs they’ve had to lay off.

Virtual tips

PUNCH, the online magazine devoted to cocktail culture, has launched a daily virtual happy hour at 5PM (ET) via Instagram (@punch_drink)) in which mixologists share drink recipes. For every dollar “tipped,” Bacardi will match in donation to the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation (RWCF). Other “tip” themed initiatives include Aviation Gin’s #TipYourBartenders campaign in which 30% of sales of bottles sold next month will go to the United States Bartender’s Guild (USBG) Foundation, Aviation initiated a donation of $15,000); Sazerac/Fireball Whiskey’s “World’s Biggest Tip Jar” GoFundMe campaign will donate to direct-relief 501 (c) (3) organizations serving the industry, with pledges to make matching donations up to $400,000.

Spirits lend a hand

Many spirits companies are making sanitizer, but as Food and Wine reports, many are also donating cash to help out-of-work bartenders. Brown-Forman, which produces Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve, is donating $1 million to various popup reliefs such as the RWCF’s COVID-19 Crisis Relief Fund (you can donate here), the USBG Foundation, and local response efforts in Louisville.

Bacardi’s #RaiseYourSpirits campaign committed $3 million in financial and other aid for the F+B industry, in addition to the $1 million its Patrón brand plans to donate. Beam Suntory and distributor Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, kicked in $1 million to the USBG and RWCF foundations.

Sōmrus, a line of India-inspired cream liqueurs, launched the “Small Brand Big Heart” GoFundMe campaign with a goal of raising $25,000 to benefit Children Of Restaurant Employees (CORE).

Industry Resources

Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE), a national association serving 43 states and the Puerto Rico, has set up an online donation site and resource center for those affected by COVID-19.

COVID 19 Hospitality Task Force is a Facebook group (by invitation) with numerous links to stories and sources, as well as other hospitality workers.

The Hospitality Relief Board, which offers help and support to the culinary, foodservice, and hospitality industries, features a regularly updated state-by-state inactive map of resources, and a comprehensive list of resources, many of which are dedicated to those affected by coronavirus.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition, formed to help local restaurants affected by COVID-19, proposes draft legislation for income replacement and grant programs. By joining with an email address, you can access briefings about key legislative updates, Social media action plans and tool kits.

The National Restaurant Association has a dedicated resource and safety portal.

The Restaurant Employee Relief Fund offers grants (first-come first-served basis) to restaurant industry employees who have demonstrated being financially impacted by COVID-19, whether through a decrease in wages or loss of employment.

Restaurant Workers Community Foundation has a dedicated COVID 19 information site with links to resources for industry workers, including information on relief funds and unemployment applications.

ServSafe, an industry training and certification association, is offering free courses and resources for foodservice workers with special Covid-19 precaution training videos for food handlers and takeout/delivery workers (the latter in English and Spanish)

USBG National Charity Foundation created the Bartender Emergency Assistance Program in which furloughed bartenders can apply for emergency relief grants up to $2500. The USBG site also includes a list of State by State Resources for those affected by the pandemic.

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